In our fast-paced Internet age, filled with too many emails and too few home-cooked meals, one could easily fear that the relaxed joys of delicious food would have little in common with the hyperkinetic and bland world of computers. In fact, for many hard-core computer users, the only time that cyberspace meets fridge space is when they dribble pizza grease onto a keyboard, or slowly turn a computer mouse orange while noshing on an artificially-colored snack.
Yet for people with more balanced diets (and more balanced lives!), computers and the Internet are making it easier than ever to enjoy good food — such as discovering tantalizing new recipes, locating cooking classes in one's area, ordering specialty foods not available locally, or simply organizing and sharing one's favorite recipes (e.g., Yummyfood.net).
However, not everyone has the time or inclination for concocting their own culinary delights, and would much rather pay to have someone else do all the cooking and cleaning. That's just one of many reasons why restaurants are so popular in the United States. But with food and transportation costs increasing at rates much higher than the "cooked" statistics provided by the federal government, almost everyone can appreciate any (ethical) methods of reducing the financial burden of dining out.
This is where restaurant coupons can help. But nowadays, a growing number of people are getting their news exclusively from the Internet or cable TV, instead of newspapers. As a consequence, these individuals usually miss out on the restaurant coupons typically found in the food sections of newspapers. Fortunately, the Internet can be useful for finding coupons and other special deals being offered to the hungry computer user.
All You Can Eat
One might assume that the widest selections of restaurant and other food coupons would be found on those websites devoted to online coupons. Of course, this would be limited to those coupon sites that actually have a section that focuses on national eateries. After all, there are countless coupon sites that appear to only deal with electronics and other home entertainment equipment.
There are a fair number of major coupon sites that include offerings from restaurants. For example, CouponMountain has deals from several dozen restaurants and online food merchants, in their food and beverage section. Like many other such sites, CouponMountain only has coupons for national restaurants, such as Arby's, Denny's, and Papa John's — never the obscure or single-location restaurants.
wowcoupons may have one of the cheesiest and most annoying websites, but they have a decent number of eateries represented, ranging from mainstream places such as Bennigan's, to sugar dealers such as Baskin-Robbins, along with various fast food joints and delis. At the time of this writing, there were 33 total coupons listed. Each entry summarizes the terms of the coupon, the expiration date (if any), and a link to the locator tool on each vendor's website.
One downside to the general coupon sites that try to cater to all regions, is that they end up only being able to offer coupons from the nationwide (or international) restaurants. As a result, the number and variety of dining establishments tends to be fairly limited. For instance, MyCoupons has a section of their site devoted to restaurants, with six listings, only two of which are actually restaurants. Even worse, both of them are a single restaurant (Pizza Hut)!
This lack of quantity and diversity is likely a result of region-specific restaurants not being applicable to coupon sites that do not offer regional searches, and the nationwide restaurants not having any need for the extra marketing. Even though their marketing budgets would undoubtedly allow for them to be listed on these coupon sites, they probably see little need, given how most consumers are already quite familiar with the major chain restaurants.
From the Horse's Hungry Mouth
If you already have a strong notion as to which restaurant you would like to visit, then your best option is to go straight to the website for that particular restaurant. Most such companies will include on their sites all of the deals and special offers that one could find on any of the coupon sites, or at least a way to receive them via email. In fact, oftentimes those coupon sites will simply list links that take the visitor directly to each restaurant's site.
Using one of the companies mentioned above, Pizza Hut, as an example, their site has a "Great Deals" section, which allows the visitor to find all of the coupons offered within their ZIP code. In addition, pizza addicts who wish to be notified of future offerings, can provide their email address (or the email address of a friend who could use a few more pounds!). At the time of this writing, within my ZIP code, there were six coupons offered.
Again using one of the aforesaid restaurants as an example, Bennigan's does not appear to have a page on their site listing coupons, but instead you can become a "Bennigan's Club Member" by providing your name, email address, ZIP code, birthday, and an optional second date, and the company will email you coupons, presumably prior to your birthday, among other times.
Regional Restaurant Resources
If you are undecided as to which type of restaurant you would most enjoy, and especially if you would prefer passing on any of the big name places, then your best bet is to do a search within your neighborhood — or at least within your city or town. Region-specific searches greatly increase your odds of finding a larger number restaurants, because their owners understand that there's little point in advertising nationally if they only have a single location, or just a handful within a limited region.
H.O.T! Coupons allows the site visitor to search by ZIP code. As a test, I searched for deals in my area, and received over 50 listings, of which over 40 were offering coupons online, and several of them listed multiple coupons for a single restaurant. While the quantity and variety of locations was impressive, the classification of the establishments was laughable. The categories were: deli, fast food, Greek food, grocery, ice cream, Italian food, pizza, restaurants, and "sandwich deli restaurant". Clearly, someone needs to polish their organizational skills.
For readers in the San Diego area, the San Diego Reader has a section devoted to restaurant coupons. It displays dozens of restaurants, alphabetically, with links to each special deal offered by the establishment. One advantage to searching locally, is that you can easily discover eateries that you have never even heard of before, because the lists are not limited to the same old mainstream places, most of which end up being fast food.
Not that there's anything wrong per se with "quick-service" restaurants. Just make sure that your brand-new laptop does not get cooled accidentally with a fast-melting dollop of vanilla ice cream.